Alumni Q&A: Amy Spitalnick, Part I

The Alumni Series aims to create a diverse collection of experiences at Tufts through highlighting notable alumni.

Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Since graduating from Tufts, Amy Spitalnick (LA ’08) has worked as press secretary for lobbying group J Street and communications director for the Office of the New York State Attorney General. She is currently executive director at Integrity First for America, the nonprofit that is behind a lawsuit against the organizers of the 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, N.C. The Daily sat down with Spitalnick to hear about her time at Tufts and her career path after graduation.
The Daily (TD): How did you decide to attend Tufts?
Amy Spitalnick (AS): I grew up on Long Island and Tufts had always been out there as an option. It’s not a surprise that a lot of New Yorkers end up at Tufts. What really did it for me was that I came to [the] April open house, which was coincidentally a program I ended up working a lot on as a student working at Admissions. I attended classes, stayed overnight in Houston [Hall] — which is where I ended up living [in my first] year — and did all the things you’re supposed to do. I just fell in love with the campus. Everyone I met was smart and passionate. It just seemed like the right place to be for someone who wanted to do something in the broader world of public service. I wasn’t sure what that was going to be … but I knew that public service was, writ large, what I wanted to do and it was so clearly a … value here. That helped me make the decision.
TD: What did you study at Tufts?
AS: I ended up studying political science and Middle Eastern studies, and I minored in what was called CMS — communications and media studies — back then … I decided [in my first] year I was going to major in political science, and [during] my junior year, I studied abroad at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. By the time I was done with that, it was clear that I would also have enough credits to double major in Middle Eastern studies. It was a fascinating cross-section of classes. I think particularly for careers in communications, that’s often times not something you can really learn in the classroom. But you do learn the underlying history and ideas that shape communications. So it ended up very much aligning with what I did professionally.
TD: Did you take any particularly memorable classes or have any memorable professors?
AS: There’s a few. Dean Alan Solomont, who runs [the Jonathan M.] Tisch College [of Civic Life] now, taught a senior seminar on American presidency, and every week we had a different guest speaker who was deeply engaged in American political life. Not only did these people speak to the class each week — we also had to present. I ended up presenting on political communications in front of [former Vermont governor] Howard Dean, which was terrifying as a college student. It certainly helped prepare me for my career. Dean Solomont is still a fantastic mentor, and I’m so thrilled to see how public service is becoming even more pervasive at Tufts. There are also a few people in the [political science] department: Jeff Berry, Debbie Schildkraut, Ronnie Olesker. There are likely others who I’ll regret not mentioning.
TD: Were you involved in any extracurricular activities while at Tufts?
AS: I think the two most formative organizations I was involved with were Tufts Hillel — I was president of Hillel [student board] my senior year — and the Admissions office — I was a tour guide and a senior intern. Those two were the biggest outside-of-classroom things I did. I was also involved in Tufts Democrats and a member of other social justice orientation clubs. Hillel here, I think is so fantastic … it was not a place where only religious students could go. It was a place where I really learned a lot about social justice and political work that has been a big part of my career. One of the biggest things that I did was in 2006. There was a major rally for Darfur [in Washington, D.C.], and for whatever reason, we decided to organize a trip where we all got on a bus down to D.C. to attend the rally and come back. It was very Tufts. I think it was Hillel and several other socially conscious organizations. At this point in my life, it seems insane, but I was a 19-year-old college kid, and I could take two overnight buses and still take a final the next day.
TD: What is one piece of advice you have for incoming first-years?
AS: It can be very overwhelming being a [first-year] at any college. You have to give it a little time to really find your people. So try out different organizations, get dinner in different dining halls, take the class that scares you. That’s how you’ll eventually find the people that become your safety network during your entire time in college. Those people are still my best friends today. It was January of my [first] year that I met a few of them. It takes a little bit of trying out different opportunities to see what clicks. It’s worth giving it a try.
TD: What is one piece of advice you have for outgoing seniors?
AS: There’s the technical thing, which is that if there’s an opportunity to work at a campaign or startup, take it if it’s of interest to you. You’ll learn so much working at a small place and be given responsibilities and opportunities you might not otherwise have. And then relationships — they’ve played such a large role in my work. Every job has been because someone knew an organization or someone was looking to fill a role. In some cases, it’s relationships that I’ve made at Tufts; in other cases, relationships I’ve made at internships or jobs in my early career. But it’s been those relationships that has lead to every next step I’ve had, and staying in touch with those people and being interested in what they do. People are willing to be helpful.